Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent: Joy and Fear

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, as I have already mentioned is the first Sunday of Advent. That means it is also the first day of the New Year for our Liturgical Calendar – and so, as I always like to say at this time of year: Happy New Year! It helps serves as a good reminder that the Church does not always make its way through time according to the dictates of the Calendar of the World. The secular world is essentially entering into the season of partying and shopping and other consumer excesses that mark the lead up to Christmas – or the holiday season as many prefer to call it these days; while we in the Church have entered into the season of Advent, a season that has a penitential aspect to it, though perhaps not as strong a one as during Lent. It is a time when we hold two things in tension, both associated with the name of the season – Advent – which means coming. And the person coming on the both the occasions referred to is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The first 'coming' which this season marks is the coming of Christ as a tiny baby in the stable in Bethlehem. It is, quite naturally, a joyful thing to mark and remember. God himself is coming into the world to save us from our sins and open for us the door that had been closed for us by the sin of our first parents, the door to heaven. And so we can not help by smile and be happy … with that happiness made all the greater at the thought of a child being born, a new life coming into the world, the quite natural feeling of joy and wonder that comes from such an event. A baby is such a precious thing – and, wonder of wonders, this baby is the king of the universe!

But that joy is held in tension with a certain trepidation, the feeling of dread that comes with the other coming to which this season of Advent is intended to remind us. And that is the second coming of our Lord Jesus. For that tiny baby grew up, preached the good news of the Gospel, giving witness to the truth of his word by the working of great signs and wonders, died upon the cross for the remission of our sins, rose from the dead, and then Ascended back to heaven, having promised that he would come again at the end of the ages to judge the living and the dead. 

And that, I think, is something that would give anyone but a saint a certain twinge of worry. For which of us is confident that we are ready to meet our maker? And without warning –for as we read in our Gospel Christ himself has told us that he will come at an unexpected hour. At that hour, all time for amendment of life will be gone – all our sins in thought, word, and deed, things that we have done and things we have failed to do will be called to account. And we may well tremble at the thought there will be those that we have not truly repented of and asked God's pardon for and been forgiven.

But – and there is a but – we must never allow the trepidation to outweigh the joy or cause us to forget it altogether. Because I said we hold these two in tension – and that means we keep them both in mind, not remember one to the exclusion of the other. Yes, Christ will one day come to judge the living and the dead. But that not something to consider in isolation. Because something else has already taken place – God became man to save us from our sins and has died for them. 

And during his time on earth he gave us so much to help us on our way to heaven: among them his living Word, which we hear now in Sacred Scriptures; his Church which he founded; and the sacraments of his Church, which are channels of God's grace and strengthen and help us on our pilgrim journey through this life. Concerning the sacraments, we may think of baptism and the way in which it changes us at the most profound level of our being, making us brothers and sisters of Christ and members of his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; we may think of Confession and Absolution, of which our Bishop spoke so eloquently and passionately when he visited us some weeks ago, and the way in which it cleanses us of our sins when we truly repent; and we may think of the Holy Eucharist, where we are given the Body and Blood of our Saviour to eat and drink – for as he told us my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink – to feed our souls and give them the kind of life for which they were intended – Christ himself having told us that we must partake of this sacrament if we are to have life in us.

So yes, we may well tremble at the thought of standing before the judgement throne at any moment – whether because our life on this earth has ended, or because the Son of Man has come on clouds and in great glory, marking the end of the ages. But we face the reality that that time will one day come strengthened by the thought of another reality – that Christ has already come – and he came to prepare us for the day when he comes again – he came so that his faithful followers need have nothing to fear on the day when he comes again. For just as his first coming was a day of great joy for all those of good will, so his second coming is a day of joy for all those who love God.

And as I finish, I leave you with this thought. The second coming of Christ is not what brought death and judgement into the world – that was as a result of our first parents' disobedience. But because of his first coming his second is an an event we may also face with hope as well as trepidation – the hope that this life will end in the place we were made for – in heaven with our creator. Which means that even though we must always keep the joy and the trepidation of which this season is intended to remind us in tension with one another, ultimately it is joy that must win out, for it is that joy that serves to remind us that those who love Christ have nothing to fear. Amen.

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